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Khayal Gharanas In Hindustani Music: Book Review

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Khayal Gharanas In Hindustani Music: Book Review

Times Weekly, October 7, 1973

Indian Musical Traditions : An Aesthetic Study Of The Gharanas In Hindustani Music : By Vamanrao Deshpande (Popular Prakashan, Bombay, pp. 120 Rs. 25)

The gharana system is by far the most distinctive feature of north Indian (Hindustani) music. Indeed, its proliferation into several performing styles is a development without parallel in any other musical tradition. It is so much a part of the Hindustani tradition that, while performers are known by their gharanas, connoisseurs broadly with their style of presentation. Yet it is also true that there is a woeful lack of theoretical and analytical literature on the subject.

What are gharanas in Hindustani music? How did they originate? Are they based on any defined aesthetic principles? What is their contribution to the north Indian music and what are their limitations? These are the basic questions that have guided Mr Deshpande in his magnum opus.

The reader must note at the outset that the author has dealt with the subject only in terms of the contemporary traditions of khayal-singing. He does not deal with the tradition of dhrupad – singing, the precursor of khayal which also according to many musicologists, had its own gharanas (banis). The whole range of instrumental music, which has also evolved under the gharana system, does not find place in the book either.

Mr Deshpande has obviously in focus the tremendous popularity that khayal – singing has enjoyed in the last 250 years. It is in fact almost synonymous with the nort Indian vocal tradition today.

Aptly enough, the author first sets out to elaborate the time-honoured postulates of Hindustani music and then outlines the essential characteristics of the gharana system. After a lucid exposition of the formal aesthetic structure of Khayal-singing, he guides the reader through the genesis of the various khayal gharanas, the conventions, methods and discipline observed by them and the musical influence that shaped the characteristics utterances of the great maestros who pioneered them. This is followed by an assessment of the leading contemporary gharanas of Agra, Kirana, Gwalior, Jaipur, Patiyala and Indore. The book ends with a discussion of the possibilities of the emergence of new gharanas, the limitation of the gharana system and problems that presently face the classical tradition.

The author’s approach to the subject is based on several assumptions : first, each khayal gharana had its origin in the distinctive quality of the voice of its founder and it is this quality that has broadly determined his style and that of his gharana. Secondly, each gharana, in the process of formation, has tried to achieve a fusion of the elements of swara (melody) and laya (rhythm), the two components of classical music, and the varying degree of the fusion so achieved gives it its stamp of individuality. And thirdly, that gharana which strikes a perfect balance between swara and laya in equal degree must be rated the most satisfying vocalism, aesthetically. To prove his point in the light of these assumptions, the author examines the stuff of the sixleading gharanas and after subjecting them to careful examination, finally gives pride of place to the Jaipur school, founded by Ustad Alladiya Khan, as the only gharana that fulfils his criterion of excellence.

The book justifiably presents claims to recognition for it makes an entirely new approach to the aesthetics of Hindustani music. The book has added significance because traditional music now seems to be either swiftly heading towards extinction or painfully getting ready to take off into as yet little known realms of melody and rhythm. Worthy of note in this context are the last three chapters.

Whatever new forms Hindustani music in general and gharanas in particular might take in time to come, the principles of its internal structures, the laws of its composition and the tenets of its aesthetics as expounded in the book will remain immutable.

Besides an illuminating foreword by Professor B. R. Deodhar, the eminent musicologist, a comprehensive glossary, a carefully compiled discography and a brilliant portfolio of rare photographs add to the value of the book.


Gurudev Sharan

Times Weekly – Oct 7, 1973

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